In what should have been a slam-dunk for good public policy and against animal abuse and crime, Republican legislators on the House Agriculture Committee instead voted to enable dog fighting in Montana (see “Fighting dog fighting,” Feb. 14). Dog fighting is a felony in all 50 states, but in only one—Montana—is attending a dogfight legal. Another fine distinction for the Treasure State: we rank dead last in state dog fighting laws.
House Bill 279 was intended to repair that loophole in state statute by making attendance at dog fights a misdemeanor after attempts to make it a felony in 2011 failed.
At the hearing for HB 279, 14 proponents stood to speak. They included a representative of the Sheriffs & Peace Officers Association (it’s a public safety issue, he emphasized), a Yellowstone County prosecutor, animal control officers (including a cruelty investigator), a Montana Veterinary Medical Association representative, and Cadette Girl Scouts from Lone Rock School Troop 3756. “We teach our Scouts to speak out and take action when they see something that needs to be changed,” said their proud leader.
Testimony frequently focused on the criminal elements—drugs, weapons and gambling—that accompany dog fighting. Fight organizers “hide” behind spectators when fights are raided, making prosecutions difficult. “Without spectators,” testified one officer, “there would be no sport.” Spectators bring children along, asserted another.
Although not a single citizen stood to oppose the bill, the committee, in later action on a motion by Rep. Krayton Kerns, R-Laurel, voted 10-7 to table it. All six Democrats were joined by one Republican to oppose tabling.
“This is the first step down a very slippery slope,” Kerns instructed. “If you just try to argue, uh, the grey area of animals used for fighting or animals suffering, uh, let’s say in a rodeo event, uh, we’re there. We’re there. So I think this is a dangerous direction we don’t want to go…” Understand this: Rep. Kerns is willing to accept illegal brutality and death for fighting dogs just to ensure that calves can be snapped by the neck in rodeo roping events. To add insult to injury, Kerns is a veterinarian.
I’d like to send Rep. Kerns and the other nine Republican legislators responsible for suppressing this common sense bill a one-way ticket to the Crime Museum in Washington, D.C., where an exhibit on dog fighting—“The Voiceless Victims”—is on display. I’d like our illustrious state legislators to see the tools of the violent, criminal trade they enabled in Montana—including a “rape stand used to immobilize female dogs for breeding purposes; (and) an electrocution device used to kill dogs who lost a fight or failed to show sufficient aggression ...” I’d like to show them videos of dogs rescued from fighting rings so they can see the suffering. If they don’t care about suffering (and I suspect they don’t), I’d like to ask them how hard they think it is to conduct similar criminal operations in Montana’s vast, rural spaces. Ag committee member Gordon Pierson, D-Deer Lodge, has already seen signs of dog fighting emerging in his area.
Most of all, I want these 10 legislators held fully accountable before the Cadette Scouts from Troop 3756—girls who were horrified to learn about dog fighting and the lack of consequences for spectators in Montana; young women who felt so strongly that they traveled to Helena to advocate for exploited dogs in the halls of their state government. I want to hear these public servants admit why they chose to accommodate felons and abandon heinously abused dogs: to ensure that business-as-usual animal cruelty continues unimpeded in Montana.